Seares: ‘Hot pursuit’ and Imok’s killers

ARREST without warrant during “hot pursuit” is allowed for efficient police work: (1) delay may endanger law enforcers’ lives or the lives of others and (2) delay may allow the perpetrators to flee.

Jordan Gera, the second suspect to fall in the killing of Ermita Bry. Captain Felicisimo Rupinta, was arrested by police eight days (Dec. 1) after Rupinta’s murder (Nov. 23).

Was Gera’s arrest still in the course of a hot pursuit and thus valid and legal? Most probably not, if one relies on Supreme Court past decisions that lay down conditions to determine legality of warrantless arrests.

‘Just committed’

From the SC rulings (among them, notably the case of Pestilos, Macapanas et. al. vs. Generoso and People of the Philippines, GR #18260, Nov. 10, 2014), what’s deemed crucial is the provision under the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure that the crime has been “just committed.”

That means the incident must have “immediacy” and “no large measure of interruption” or “appreciable lapse of time.” Underscore the word “just” in “just committed” under the rules, the high tribunal in effect said.

How long

But how long may the interruption be before the hot pursuit cools and the arrest becomes unlawful?

Not hot pursuit anymore: the next day (People vs. del Rosario); three days later (Posadas vs. Ombudsman); six days after (Rolito Go vs. Court of Appeals, yes, the traffic rage case).

Held valid: the same day (People vs. Tonog Jr.); three hours after the crime (People vs. Gerente).

Of course, along with the element of time, the SC also considered “personal knowledge” and “probable cause” as determined by cops making the arrest.

Arrest warrant

Let this be made clear though: If police can no longer arrest a murder suspect under the hot pursuit doctrine, it doesn’t mean law enforcers hands are tied and perpetrators get off the hook. Police can still go after him using an arrest warrant.

Is the rule merely a “human rights nicety” that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) loves to wave before law enforcers? Or an annoying rule of procedure that impairs police work?

Reason for rule

The SC, in interpreting the said rule on criminal procedure (Rule 113, section 5 [b]), noted that as the “time gap” increases between commission of the crime and the arrest, pieces of information “are prone to be contaminated by external factors,” such as misinterpretation and hearsay. In sum, the rule aims to minimize arrests on mere suspicion or information passed from person to person to police.

This is not to imply the police arrested suspect #2 Jordan Gera without evidence that can stand in court. But in making the apparent shortcut, the police could hurt the case buildup against Rupinta’s killers.

The rule is a safeguard against abuse or excess. Too bad that some people may see it as an impediment to swift law enforcement -- and a dampener to the grippingly dramatic image of police hotly pursuing dastardly criminals.
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